Feliciano López, Grand Slam record breaker (he’s played in 68 consecutive majors) and player who, until this year, had not missed a single edition of the Mutua Madrid Open, will not be playing what would have been his 18thappearance on the trot in the Spanish capital. Fans in the Caja Mágica will not be able to enjoy his powerful serve, his volleys and his elegant tennis, but in exchange the tournament will have him in its offices as Director. This is wonderful news because of his vast experience and the empathy he has for the players, two qualities that make him the perfect choice to replace Manolo Santana, who will now be the Honorary President. Last year they were together and Feliciano learned the ropes from a true gentleman of the sport, a man loved by tennis players who has a character similar to that of López. “It will be an honour and a huge responsibility to succeed a legend of Spanish sport”, Feli himself declared in an open letter as he teamed up with Gerard Tsobanian and Alberto Berasategui. “This year I learned a lot as the Assistant Director. It’s a beast of a tournament that I believe will stay in Madrid for many years”, he stated in May 2018. Continuity to adapt to changing times.
Feliciano is lucky enough to be making his debut as an executive in a spectacular year in which Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will all be present for the first time since 2013. The return of the Swiss, four years after his last appearance in 2015, is a triumph for the tournament. It was Feli’s biggest wish and he has made it come true. Federer could have chosen anywhere for his return to clay-court tennis and he chose Madrid over the rest as his first point of contact and preparation for the French Open. “If Roger plays in Paris, he could come back to Madrid”, said López in an interview given to your scribe. And he was right. All of the best will be there, all of the players that are available from a tour that has been hugely competitive so far this season, from both the ATP and the WTA. This makes the fight for titles more open than ever at a tournament that has been giving equal prize money for years, something that its new Director will be a strong supporter of.
With this huge influx of quality, Feliciano becomes one of many players who have gone on to direct tournaments. At Indian Wells, such work has been going on since 2017 at the hands of the German Tommy Haas, and James Blake does the same in Miami. Also, Richard Krajicek is at the helm in Rotterdam and Albert Costa in Barcelona, to give a few examples. It is a logical trend that is growing on tour because there is nobody better than a tennis player to understand the needs of those that are still competing and also to seek the best for the spectators.
López’s case, though, is a special one because he will continue playing other events for as long as his body allows it, therefore he will be in permanent contact with the reality and daily life of this sport, picking up knowledge that will help him enormously in his work as director in coming years. Feli is a likeable, friendly and polite guy who is well-respected among the players and has always been good to the press. If, in time, he adds sports management and directorship skills, there is little more we can ask of him. All that is left now is to wish him good luck and success in his work at this “beast” of a tournament, as he calls it, that is the Mutua Madrid Open.
By Nacho Albarrán